Many turn away from life’s call because of fear

The Greatest Mistake You Can Make, Is to Be Afraid of Making one.
(Elbert Hubbard [1])

“What? You plan to go to Japan to study the language? You’re nearly 24, without a college education, so why would you want to do that? How will you support yourself? And if you do learn the language, what will you do with it? Aren’t you taking a big gamble?”

Yes, I was taking a gamble, but isn’t that what we all do when we chase after our dreams? So, I didn’t heed the advice of my friends and family and left for Japan. The result was the greatest adventure of my life, which lasted 15 years.

“Are you mad? You want to marry a foreign student? Do you want to bring shame on our family? Only fools would gamble with their lives like that! We forbid you to marry him, and if you do, we will disown you!”

But my wife, who was a Registered Nurse at the time, chose to listen to her heart, rather than her parents. So, we married and shared a 48 year adventure in Japan, Hawaii, and Canada, and continue to do so.

These stories are just two examples of the countless opportunities that come our way. Life invites us to say yes to adventure, excitement, and courage. Many, however, turn away from life’s call because of fear. But all the decisions we make have consequences, and the consequences of giving in to fear are lives of regret.

Yet, in unguarded moments, courage can change to rashness or impulsiveness and the gambles we take may turnout to be destructive, rather than constructive. Some, for example, turn to gambling, alcohol, sex, and drugs to add thrills to their lives. But rather than lead us to our dreams, such choices drag us to our nightmares.

To avoid treading down the wrong path, we need to question our motives. Here are questions to ask. Is this action likely to be constructive or destructive? Do I want to do this because I’m running away from pain or boredom, or am I running to a positive goal? Am I trying to get something for nothing (such as winning money at a casino) or am I willing to invest the time, effort, and expense that is needed to reach my dream? After all, as A.P. Gouthey [2] wrote, “To get profit without risk, experience without danger and reward without work is as impossible as it is to live without being born.”

Risk-taking is our legacy and salvation, for “This nation was built by men who took risks — pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, business men who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” (Brooks Atkinson [3])

Philip Adams [4] explains why it is so important for us to reflect on our actions, goals, and fears, “It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly (TV) and treat life as if it goes on forever.”

And Robert Collier [5] points out the paradox of risk-taking, “Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world.” This message is constantly repeated. For example Geena Davis [6] said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”; Erica Jong [7] echoes, “If you don’t risk anything you risk even more”, Elbert Hubbard [1] wrote, “The greatest mistake you can make, is to be afraid of making one”, and Dag Hammarskjold [8] stated, “It is in playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” These thinkers are simply expressing the truth that if we refuse to take risks, we will not be able to accomplish anything.

When we refuse to take risks, there are terrible consequences. For a life without risk-taking is a life without adventure. After you’ve read a page in a book, do you endlessly reread the same page? Don’t you turn the page to find out how things develop? Life is a book; the risks we take are the pages, and as we turn the pages, we experience the adventure of life. Here are three more thinkers commenting on this theme:

“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves.” (André Gide [9]); “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.” (William James [10]); “You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” (Paulo Coelho [11])

Tips and caveats
1.
Only by daring to go too far can we find out how far we can go. So, we mustn’t be afraid of taking big risks. Of course, balance is also called for. That is, we should aim for calculated risks while avoiding rashness and impulsivity. Yet, as Alvin Toffler [12] writes, “It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” Why is that? Because “We fail more often by timidity than by over-daring.” (David Grayson [13]) Besides, “If there were no bad speculations there could be no good investments; if there were no wild ventures there would be no brilliantly successful enterprises.” (F.W. Hirst [14]) When we play it safe, we just get by, but that may not be good enough in turbulent times.

2. Risk-taking requires trust in yourself and trust in life. Some find this difficult because faith is synonymous with uncertainty. Yet, acting without certainty is pragmatic. For how else can we learn if something will work or not?

3. With courage, we can try anything, but that doesn’t mean we will succeed at everything. So, we must monitor our efforts and make changes in direction or method whenever necessary. At times, we may have to start all over from the beginning. But we need not be afraid of ‘failure,’ for as someone else once wrote, “Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.”

4. If you are riddled with doubt, don’t proceed because half-hearted attempts rarely succeed.

5. Common sense and caution are better than rashness, but don’t be too prudent. For “We may by our excessive prudence squeeze out of the life we are guarding so anxiously all the adventurous quality that makes it worth living.” ( Randolph S. Bourne [15]) 

6. It is good to do research and investigate the possible impediments to success, but don’t expect to solve all problems before you begin. Nothing will ever be accomplished, if you wait for the ‘perfect’ plan.

7. Use these quotations as guideposts on your life adventure: “Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” (George Shinn [16]); “To see what few have seen, you must go where few have been.” (Buddha [17]); “We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.” (Martha Grimes [18]).

8. Learn from Kelly Williams [19], “When I’m in a bout and I stop fighting to win and start fighting not to lose, I’m almost guaranteed to lose because I quit taking chances.”

9. Learn from the poet, Victor Hugo [20], “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” We don’t have wings, but in their place we have resilience. Don’t forget about this inner resource and remember, we are as powerful as we allow ourselves to be.

10. Manage your fears. And to help you do so, here is a practical guidebook that should be on everyone’s bookshelf: Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears: A Practical Handbook to Overcoming 100 Stomach-Churning Fears by Michael Clarkson, Da Capo Press, 2004. It is available here or here or here.

11. Learn from Mahatma Gandhi [21] who said, “There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid.” His teaching is important because it reminds us that remaining afraid is a choice.

12. Remember that some things are too important to avoid doing merely because you are afraid, or as Bill Cosby [22] put it, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”  

13. Life has two rules: 1. If you want to succeed, do what you fear; 2. Always remember the first rule.

14. It’s easier to be courageous if you remember that “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.” (Earl Wilson [23])

15. How is your life going? Are you experiencing any defeats? If you’re not running into roadblocks, tripping over barriers, or crashing into obstacles, it may mean you’re not taking enough risks!

16. To avoid the pain of defeat, some build walls of protection around themselves. These walls are made of excuses to do nothing. But be careful, for if you build a wall too thick, you won’t be able to break free. Yet, if the pain of being a prisoner of mediocrity grows stronger than the pain of breaking free, you’ll be able to advance once again. Here’s how Anais Nin [24] expressed this idea, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

17. Don’t be afraid to take risks because if you win, you’ll be happy, and if you lose, you will be wise.  And as Peter F. Drucker [25] points out, “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” Since the odds are the same, it doesn’t make sense to try and be safe.

18. Learn the Disney [26] 4 C’s. “Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making his dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy and the greatest of these is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.”

Risk-Taking Exercise
To get the most satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning from life, we need to constantly take new risks, or regularly step out of our comfort zone. If we’re not doing so, that’s because we’re not spending time thinking about what we want from life or because we don’t know what we want. To solve either problem, make a list of ten things that it would be nice to do, be, or have.

Here’s an example list of five items:

1. It would be nice if I could speak, read, and write Arabic.
2. It would be nice if I could do ballroom dancing.
3. It would be nice if I could repair cars.
4. It would be nice if I could earn extra money.
5. It would be nice if I could visit Australia.

Your list will reveal things that you would like to do, be, or have. Why haven’t you achieved those goals? Is it because of fear? Is everything you want on the other side of fear? Or is it because you are not yet willing to invest the time, effort, and expense to achieve them? Practice self-questioning and ask yourself what is preventing you from reaching your goals. But be careful, don’t look for excuses; rather, look for what you are doing  wrong, what you should be doing, and how to begin doing it. Remember, those who said they never had a chance, never took one.

Concluding Thoughts
It’s sad that, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.” (Mary Kay Ash [27]) Is that the way we should live? Or would we be better off abiding by the following maxim?

“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” [28]

Denis Waitley [29] has the final word, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”

[1] Elbert Hubbard (1856~1915, American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher)
[2] A.P. Gouthey (A Christian writer of pamphlets and booklets in the 1920’s and 30’s)
[3] Brooks Atkinson (1894~1984, American theatre critic)
[4] Philip Adams (Born July 12, 1939, Australian broadcaster, film producer, writer, social commentator, and satirist)
[5] Robert Collier (1885~1950, American writer, publisher)
[6] Geena Davis (Born 1957, American actress)
[7] Erica Jong (Author of 21 books,
http://www.ericajong.com/index1.htm)
[8] Dag Hammarskjold (1905~1961, Swedish statesman, Secretary-General of the UN)
[9] André Gide (1869~1951, French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947)
[10] William James (1843~1910, American psychologist and philosopher)
[11] Paulo Coelho (Born 1947, Brazilian lyricist and novelist)
[12] Alvin Toffler (Born 1928, American author)
[13] David Grayson (1870~1946, American journalist, popular essayist)
[14] F.W. Hirst (1873~1953, British journalist, writer and editor of The Economist magazine)
[15] Randolph S. Bourne (1886-1918, American writer)
[16] George Shinn (Born in 1941, Owner of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team, which he bought for $32,500,000 in 1987)
[17] Buddha (c. 563~483 BC)
[18] Martha Grimes (Born May 2, 1931, American author of detective fiction,
http://www.marthagrimes.com/hp/)
[19] Kelly Williams (Born February 2, 1982, a Filipino–American professional basketball player)
[20] Victor Hugo (1802~1885, French poet, dramatist, novelist)
[21] Mahatma Gandhi (1869~1948, political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement)
[22] Bill Cosby (born July 12, 1937, American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist,
http://billcosby.com/)
[23] Earl Wilson (1934~2005, American baseball star)
[24] Anais Nin (1903~1977, French author who became famous for her published journals, which span more than 60 years, beginning when she was 11 years old and ending shortly before her death)
[25] Peter F. Drucker [25] (1909~2005, American writer, professor, Management Consultant)
[26] Walt Disney (1901~1966)
[27] Mary Kay Ash (1918~2001, American businesswoman, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics)
[28] West Point Cadet Maxim (American military academy)
[29] Denis Waitley (Born 1933, American author, speaker, trainer, peak performance expert,
http://www.deniswaitley.com/).

 

Author: Chuck Gallozzi

Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counsellors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at chuck.gallozzi@rogers.com. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi

19 thoughts on “Many turn away from life’s call because of fear”

  1. “Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.”

    are you kidding? this is most definitely not the case. people wind up crushed as the result of “adventures” for the most part. only the few manage to get out alright. people wind up in situations that they can barely get out of,while losing their spirit at the same time.

    give me a break.

  2. hey Paul.

    that’s a good question. i don’t know that i have a solution. not having a solution however doesn’t mean i can’t speak the truth about this. people who try and fail, by and large, do not live fulfilling lives. i don’ know who he knows to be talking like this, but most people who pursue their dreams and fail don’t feel fulfilled.

    it is not because of their “attitude” neither. failure often causes all sorts of other setbacks that can really sap a person’s strength. and looking on the bright side won’t change one’s circumstances. and i don’t know that it’s a start neither.

    Paul i think the right balance would be to calculate and be serious. happy-go-lucky positivity and-don’t-be-so-serious types don’t understand the concept of majorities.

  3. OK Paul.

    i guess they didn’t publish my comment so i’ll try to modify it to make it acceptable. many dont want to hear how the positive risk taking thing doesn’t work out a lot of the time and it ruins many peoples attitudes. some believe reading something negative will cause them problems. like a bad juju type thing.

    anyway, what i said was that the right balance may be to take a calculated risk and to drop the happy-go-lucky teenager attitude and be serious about it. other than that, what can i tell you.

  4. Hey Tony sorry for this long delay on follow up, wasn’t notified and didn’t think my comment got a response, but I find this topic very interesting I checked back haha, because I have never heard anyone make the excellent point you do, which come to think of it is really strange, because I think it is a very important truth (just from my gut, I haven’t seen any stats/research here) and needs to be maturely, adequately, and squarely addressed, and it isn’t, I don’t think the point you made is even explicitly recognized. There is a cost factor. I haven’t sorted out my thoughts and want to make some further comments but just want to get a note off quickly. I will post further.

  5. hey Paul,

    thanks for recognizing the validity of what i said. it is something that will not be maturely discussed anytime soon. the idea of having failed but knowing you’ve tried is of little consolation to those who have failed. only those that mostly succeed can even think that. what modern day attitudes are all about it avoidance. avoidance of the ramifications. avoidance because it is ‘negative.’ and so the beat goes on. i’d like to read more of your thoughts on the matter.

  6. Hey Tony, sorry I get ‘comment too long’ auto rejection, haha, obviously don’t want any serious discussion here, moderator, please lengthen at least to 250 words or so.

  7. I just doubled the character limit, the comment feature here was somewhat new and just took a guess at a reasonable length.

  8. If I may jump in, this is an interesting discussion topic and you bring up a good point. Some say if you never try to achieve your dream you’ll regret it later in life, always wondering “what if”. Is that worse than actually knowing you at least tried but didn’t make it? I don’t know. Personally I don’t get too attached to the outcome, I see something I want and try for it, but if I don’t get there then no point in beating myself up over it if I did my best.

    Risk taking is a necessary part of taking on something challenging, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Tony, where you say “only those that mostly succeed” I think is a key point. You need to be succeeding enough along the way such that you can accept the failures as being just “bumps in the road”. But if you’re failing most of the time then you’re not making progress so why bother? I can see that certainly being very troubling to someone, especially if the reasons for failure are not something they can fix themselves (e.g. through learning). Sometimes failures can be outside ones control, the worse ones being when circumstances favor others unfairly.

  9. Hey Steve I think you make a good point and there is no point in just not trying to achieve your dream. That is not the answer. I think people often know what they want to do, but for many different reasons (fear, comfort, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, complacency, apathy) don’t take the practical steps necessary to achieve it. The desire isn’t greater than the desire for what they have now. You are right that it is too bad when people know what they want but don’t reach the potential of a more satisfying, rewarding, and contributing and fulfilling life. On the other hand, I think many more people than we may realize do take on difficult challenges. I think the great point being made by Tony is that there is ‘another side’ to risk taking that isn’t squarely and openly being addressed, and I hope some of my comments following can add to the discussion.

  10. Hey Tony
    I think this is a big can of worms we’ve opened, haha, but I will try to make some comments. I think it is easy to make the case for risk in the sense of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. You have to move from where you are to where you want to go, you aren’t there now, so you have to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the known to the unknown, and you may find that what you end up with isn’t as good as what you had. In these situations very little may be risked and failure may perhaps have little consequence, such as the example at the beginning of the article: being young and adventurous and going to Japan, where I think there is almost everything to gain and very little to lose. I’m not saying that this doesn’t take courage and adventure and that there isn’t risk of things going wrong, but I don’t think that this is the kind of failure you addressed in the statement ‘those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure’. I would think the latter would be more happy and fulfilled to the extent that their fears were founded. This is something that I think a lot of rah rah go for it pep talk sell my books tell you what you want to hear type success pandering/advice does not properly address. And that is failure has consequences, especially when it is preceded by high hopes and dreams, a lot of excitement and optimism, perhaps wishful thinking. And it can be serious and have long term effects, perhaps sometimes crippling effects that last a very long time and can take a long time to heal and get over. (continued)

  11. (continuation)
    I think there can be many reasons for this: the idea that success is easy, just think like this, do this, that you should be successful according to unexamined norms, building up very high hopes and expectations, risking too much, trying too hard, that not ‘being successful’ is failure, taking for granted the Western idea of success as achievement/accomplishment, with material and status symbols. It is important to see at the outset that talking about risk in any real sense if we are to use this word at all is by the very nature of the case *risky*. Of course this is all a very general discussion (like the article), and so it is easy to say that these observations may or may not apply in many particular instances: a young person going on an adventure, launching a new product, a new business, taking a financial risk, etc. But of course we can’t get into too much detail haha. I just think you make two great points: that fewer may succeed than we think when they ‘go for it’, and second, that there can be a lot of wreckage, scarring and damage when you don’t make it and this shouldn’t be swept under the rug and needs to be properly addressed.

  12. wow. steve, paul, a lot of stuff here. i don’t have time to comment right now but i will later. you’re both making excellent points. this topic needs to be developed further.

    let me ask this though. if instead of Japan, you decide to go learn French in Haiti. would that lead to a 48 year adventure?

  13. [quote name=”Paul”]Hey Tony

    This is something that I think a lot of rah rah go for it pep talk sell my books tell you what you want to hear type success pandering/advice does not properly address. And that is failure has consequences, especially when it is preceded by high hopes and dreams, a lot of excitement and optimism, perhaps wishful thinking. And it can be serious and have long term effects, perhaps sometimes crippling effects that last a very long time and can take a long time to heal and get over. (continued)[/quote]

    Paul, you hit the nail on the head so hard it went right through the board!
    it is the high hopes that cause the devastation when failure occurs. here’s the rub, you’re supposed to have high hopes and fantasy thinking when you go out to achieve something. all of these happy-go-lucky theories extoll the virtues of “knowing” you’ll make it and pumping yourself up. they say you’ll definitely fail if you take a more realistic apporach because you “didn’t want it enough.”

    can you even win like this?

  14. [quote name=”Steve M”] I think is a key point. You need to be succeeding enough along the way such that you can accept the failures as being just “bumps in the road”. But if you’re failing most of the time then you’re not making progress so why bother? I can see that certainly being very troubling to someone, especially if the reasons for failure are not something they can fix themselves (e.g. through learning). Sometimes failures can be outside ones control, the worse ones being when circumstances favor others unfairly.[/quote]

    precisely! this is exactly what this article and all others like this won’t address. they won’t address it because it is ‘negative’ and will infect the environment with negativity. essentially, they view it a “jinxing”.

    so now what about this guys???

  15. [quote name=”tony”]precisely! this is exactly what this article and all others like this won’t address. they won’t address it because it is ‘negative’ and will infect the environment with negativity. essentially, they view it a “jinxing”.

    so now what about this guys???[/quote]

    Perhaps, however in my experience, the people who most need self improvement advice hardly need to be warned of the potential negative outcomes. In many cases they are so pessimistic, depressed or limited by fear that taking a positive approach is what they need, and does in fact help. I went through some rough negative times much earlier in life where positive self-help advice pretty much turned my life around and put it on the right track. I didn’t need them to warn me “by the way you may fail”, that was already a given. I just don’t like the ones who make unrealistic promises or suggest magical things might happen. Like if you just imagine what you want long enough you’ll attract it, it’s hardly that simple.

  16. It’s perhaps interesting to look at the issue in terms of the second law of thermodynamics – the universe always tends towards disorder – entropy! Life is fundamentally a battle against entropy and a localised yet temporary state. If we do not act positively, courageously and take risks then entropy will stake its claim on us anyway with consequences that are never good. The effects of entropy on life are often slow and pernicious and so are not as dramatic perhaps as the catastrophic failure of risk taking – but those effects are guaranteed – absolutely guaranteed. Take risks then – there is nothing to lose other than an illusion of security. Imagine if 6 million Jews in WW2 had taken the risk to stand up to their persecutors instead of choosing security and the gas chamber!

  17. [quote name=”Ian Beveridge”]It’s perhaps interesting to look at the issue in terms of the second law of thermodynamics – the universe always tends towards disorder – entropy! Life is fundamentally a battle against entropy and a localised yet temporary state. If we do not act positively, courageously and take risks then entropy will stake its claim on us anyway with consequences that are never good. The effects of entropy on life are often slow and pernicious and so are not as dramatic perhaps as the catastrophic failure of risk taking – but those effects are guaranteed – absolutely guaranteed. Take risks then – there is nothing to lose other than an illusion of security. Imagine if 6 million Jews in WW2 had taken the risk to stand up to their persecutors instead of choosing security and the gas chamber![/quote]

    trouble is Ian, there is always plenty to lose. i’ve seen many lose what little they had and not gain it back. even when there is nothing to lose, the failure breaks them down. the amount of heart you can lose is limitless.

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